ITSMA Research Themes 2021: Leading Marketing In an Era of Uncertainty

Momentum ITSMA Staff

February 25, 2021

To support B2B marketers as they recommit to driving growth, strategically, we have released our research themes for 2021.

ITSMA Research Themes 2021: Leading Marketing In an Era of Uncertainty

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Even though the rules of business were thrown out the window in 2020, B2B marketers stepped up and played a critical leadership role in their organizations’ responses to the pandemic. With no warning and little time, they moved to remote work, converted physical events to virtual ones, worked closer with sales, put campaigns on hold, pivoted messaging, updated thought leadership and content, and launched new offerings.

In fact, our research shows that despite the monumental challenges of 2020, 87% of marketers successfully achieved their revised marketing goals for the year. They stepped up in business-critical areas such as contributing to revenue growth, developing client relationships, and providing valuable input to guide business strategy.

To support B2B marketers as they recommit to driving growth, strategically, while recognizing that some of the uncertainties of the pandemic will still exist, we have released our 2021 Research Agenda. Read below, and to keep up-to-date on all of our research, sign up for the ITSMA Research Digest.

ITSMA Research Themes 2021

Leading Marketing to the Next Normal

Building on our annual Marketing Trends research, we’re launching an ongoing conversation among B2B marketing leaders about the priorities, challenges, and opportunities amid the global health crisis, reshaped working environments, and the acceleration of all things digital. The questions we’ll try to answer include:

  • How do we ensure that our brand and messaging set the right tone and consistency?
  • What data, analytics, and insight matter most to manage marketing, and how can we stay on top of the fast-changing landscape to inform leadership on what to expect?
  • What changes do we need to consider for our teams and skills sets?
  • How can we best prepare for the next phases of adjustment and when the next normal begins?

We will address these during our Marketing Leadership Forum in May and during leadership discussions with ITSMA members and others. We’ll pull together current thinking, examples, and lessons learned as we all get through the crisis.

Orchestrating Executive Engagement for Strategic Growth and Innovation

Executive engagement was already a core topic for 2020, but it takes on even more importance now as marketers need to stay close to fast-shifting priorities among their senior-level buyers and decision makers while also rethinking strategies and programs that typically rely heavily on face-to-face connection. We’ll look at:

  • Which executives, audiences, and roles are most important to engage right now?
  • How are the executives we care about changing their own preferences for solution provider content and connection?
  • What types of digital programs should we add, change, or cut?
  • How can we best reinforce the stakeholder relationships that matter most?
  • What plans and contingency plans should we make for restarting face-to-face activities?

A revised version of ITSMA’s annual How Executives Engage study will explore how customers want to engage during this period. And, through our C-Suite Marketing podcast and other thought leadership, we’ll share stories from leading marketers on how they are designing and aligning programs to develop trusted, executive-level relationships for advocacy, innovation, and long-term growth.

Embedding ABM to Accelerate Account Growth

A perennial priority for ITSMA, Account-Based Marketing is perhaps the most effective way that marketing and sales can collaborate to reinforce relationships with their most important accounts, innovate new solutions, and orchestrate engagement with buyers on the issues they care about most. But ABM, like other parts of marketing, has to rethink and adjust, especially as marketing budgets come under increasing scrutiny.

Optimizing ABM for the year ahead requires a more substantial review of the best path forward versus a few tactical changes here and there. We need to determine:

  • How should we adjust our overall ABM strategy and approach?
  • What types of data do we need now to refine our approach?
  • What do we need to do now to ensure alignment with sales?
  • How should we rethink the accounts in our program, the ABM team and their roles, campaigns and tactics, and technology and tools supporting ABM?
  • Do we need to rebalance our relative emphases on new and existing customers?
  • How should we measure success during this period and beyond?

Building on ITSMA’s ABM Adoption Model and Assessment and our annual ABM benchmarking study with the ABM Leadership Alliance, we’ll dig deep into the immediate changes that ABM leaders are making and considering, and the new initiatives required to pilot, scale, and embed the right blend of ABM to boost your business in the months and years ahead.

Driving Thought Leadership to Build Differentiation and Win Business

The importance of thought leadership to engage buyers and strengthen relationships continues to grow, particularly as marketing and sales strive to engage with the C-Suite. Setting the agenda with thought leadership and content to connect, add value, and differentiate yourself will help B2B marketers set themselves apart from the competition. Our research will focus on:

  • Publishing high-quality thought leadership on relevant business and industry issues.
  • Creating personalized thought leadership that speaks directly to clients and prospects.
  • Getting the right content into the hands of the executives you want to reach.
  • Collaborating with sales so they can build the brand and nurture relationships with both clients and prospects.

In addition, thought leadership has become an essential ingredient for both client engagement programs and Account-Based Marketing. Advancing Thought Leadership will be one of our Marketing Excellence Award categories for 2021 and we will continue to share stories and ideas of how to apply thought leadership to drive growth and revenue.

Enabling Sales to Optimize Client Engagement

One thing that became clear in our research is that sales needed marketing as they pivoted to connecting with customers virtually and not in person. Equipping sales with insight, programs, and platforms to optimize engagement in a digital-first environment was a key dimension of marketing’s transformation last year. Going forward, we’ll focus on what’s new and what’s changing in that area:

  • What is marketing’s role in increasing sales productivity and win rates?
  • How do you align marketing and sales goals and metrics?
  • How can marketing and sales collaborate to orchestrate and optimize the customer experience?
  • How do you drive marketing and sales collaboration to impact business results?
  • How can marketing bring insight and innovation to the business?

Much of our Sales Enablement research will be embedded in our other research, such as ABM and Orchestrating Executive Engagement, but as this Marketing Excellence Award-winning program from Infosys (PDF) shows, marketing and sales collaboration are key to driving revenue.

While 2020 showed us that anything can happen and we may need to shift gears mid-drive, we at ITSMA are confident that these five research themes will help us continue to support our members as they build on their strengths to grow and advance in 2021.

Look for these themes in our events, thought leadership, and collaborative initiatives throughout the year. Tell us your thoughts or if we’re missing anything, and if you have a great story to share around any of these or other big marketing themes for the year, let me know.